One of the key parts of being a Hip-Hop fan is going at great lengths to debate the art itself. We’ve all had those discussions, whether it be centered around beef (Pusha T won btw), a top 5 list of the greats or who is currently the best rapper alive the arguments will forever continue. Another topic that is often prevalent in rap forums are which albums can be considered classic, timeless works. While it is certainly all subjective, I believe often times in specific regard to timeless projects the indie scene can be overlooked. There are albums that were not necessarily worldwide smashes, but that stand out as near flawless works that you as a listener will return to even years after its release.
One such album that fits into that category for me is CLEW’s “Champange Brunches”. The project was released originally on September 30th, 2016 and is still garnering praise and new listeners for the rapper to this day. The Arkansas-born rapper used the project to showcase his style – ripe with tight lyricism, a cohesive tracklist and an infusion of his personality that helps the listener feel as though they come away knowing who CLEW is not only as an artist but as a man.
Things start with the hyper-soulful “#ADreamComeTrue”. Over blaring piano keys and horn-blown melodies the MC kicks it off with a line that sums up the whole track perfectly. “It’s the young nigga, polished as a pedicure/This ain’t what they was ready for”. The braggadocious line is delivered in a calm manner but sets the table for a track jam packed with his witty lyricism that can quite frankly catch a listener off guard. The polish of his production and flow is evident here and it prepares us for a project full of such quality.
We all have a certain affinity and attachment for home and CLEW is the same. On track 2, “Where I’m From”, we get to hear him in full glory as the hometown hero. The ode to Little Rock is a good introduction to some of CLEW’s backstory for first time listeners of his. “So CLEW where you from its kind of hard to catch the accent? Well the 501 raised me and made me ready for action, 706 is where I had my favorite address and the 601 was straight rockstar practice.” Lines like these help to bring his story full circle but not in a way that sacrifices the catchiness of the song. “Lately” follows and is another example of CLEW taking the time to let his wittiness stand on display.
At this point in “Champange Brunches” CLEW steps back from letting the records be more rooted in a freeflowimg style instead constructing more of a storyline. This begins on the standout “Party”. Here he slowly unravels a story revolving around a massive house party that is seemingly one that can compete with Kid and Play’s own. The depth of his rhymes here allow for a vivid picture to be painted verse by verse, almost as if we are actually going through the entire day and morning after alongside him. The song is a bit lengthy but he does a good job of not losing your attention as a listener.
“Ridin High” is up next and is a lesson in pimp tactics. This record has the spirit of O.G. southern songs like those crafted by 8 Ball & MJG, UGK and more recently Big K.R.I.T.. The title is an applicable one as it is certainly music to swang to. The pimpery doesn’t last long though as a phone call ruins his mood, leading us into a different vibe with “Ex-Factor”. A monologue from an uncredited woman proceeds the track with her speaking of how she has been wronged, still has love in her heart, but ultimately must end with a “fuck you” towards CLEW. Here we don’t really get rapping, with CLEW instead opting to perform some spoken word. The live instruments appear again here as sparse guitar and drum patterns drive forth.
The project’s best track in my opinion is up next and goes by the name of “3 AM”. This song is the definition of a vibe, with slow developing production and a catchy hook that shouts at Waffle House it literally sounds like 3 o’clock in the morning post-club. With only one verse CLEW hits his mark, documenting a risque encounter between him and his muse for the song. “3 AM” isn’t constructed like your average song but it doesn’t matter here at all. It’s too good to sleep on.
We once again get to see more emotion from CLEW on “Do That”, albeit the emotion of being exhausted. The exhaustation does not come from physical activity but rather a woman who is taking him through some things. I feel as though often times we get to here the angst of relationships from women in a more complete manner than we do from men. A lot of the time rappers don’t like to show that vulnerability but CLEW does so unapologetically. The way he balances being angry, regretful and a little lost in regards to his feelings towards the lady makes the track have a certain level of reality to it many can relate to. Fortunately for CLEW though this doesn’t last long, as a call from the homies to hit the city changes this mood.
This leads us to “Phresh”, an ode to that feeling having nice threads can bring. Do you remember how you used to lay those clothes out before the first day of achool? You couldn’t wait to go to class and have everyone’s eyes and attention. That specific feeling is essentially put into audio form on “Phresh”. An interpolated hook borrowed from the late Pimp C makes it even more catchy.
Another personal standout follows in “Wow”. This song is similar to Kendrick’s “Backseat Freestyle” in a sense that it has a song structure similar to that which is created just rapping over instrumentals with the homies. The past few records on the project were all ones that featured a specific message and purpose, so having this one which is essentially just random hot bars was a decent change of pace. I often find myself putting this one on repeat.
We reach the back end of “Champange Brunches” with “Picasso”. Without going too far into detail lets just say as picture perfect as his paintings are considered, CLEW alliteration is on certain parts of the record. A lyrical masterpiece. Ironically, the project ends with “Intro”. Live instruments are a huge part of this album as a whole but in no better use than here. CLEW recruits a full band to replay the same instrumental that was used for “#ADreamComeTrue”. Lyrically he drops the laid-back style that he is most known for in leui of possibly his most urgent verse. The determination of his rhymes combined with the performance of the live band makes it a perfect conclusion.
One of the main qualities rappers with longevity such as Rick Ross, Snoop Dogg and others possess is a knack for production and cohesiveness. On the indie circuit of the South you would be hard pressed to find better production and cohesiveness than that on “Champange Brunches”. Aside from that is the actual skill level that CLEW has in his rhyme spitting. While not overtly lyrical, he has a sleek ability to drop lines that may not be caught on just one listen. He has a level of wit and charm to his words that just makes them stick. Sometimes you can even hear him getting hyped at his own words, cracking a smile in the booth. Simply put “Champange Brunches” is timeless in its own right and one of the better independent album releases of the past few years.